Now almost a quarter-century into their existence, Pearl Jam seem to have reached a new level of appreciation for how far they’ve come, the distinctiveness of their longevity and each other. That’s evidenced by their interplay onstage, and the warm vibes exuded offstage by bassist Jeff Ament, who, at 51, still plays with the same youthful vigor he did years ago, but has also come to appreciate a little downtime now and then.
Days before the final show on the Lightning Bolt tour, Ament spoke with Rolling Stone about ending another chapter in the band’s career, how he plans on spending his time away from the spotlight and what’s next for Pearl Jam.
At this point, Pearl Jam has been around for almost 25 years. When you first started, did you ever envision it lasting this long?
I’ll be honest, when things blew up around the second or third record, I thought it could implode at any time. It felt like it was sort of out of control. There weren’t a lot of real conversations about what we were doing or why were doing it. It was all sort of by feel. We were winging it.
But there was some deep part of us that trusted one other enough to decide this was the right group of guys to do it with. That’s been a huge life lesson in a lot of ways. Whether it’s your relationship with your wife or your family or your friends, where do you draw the line that says “I’m done with this” or “I’m gonna persevere through this?”
It feels like it’s all bonus time at this point, you know? And it makes you want to try harder. I feel like our last couple records are pretty strong, because we worked super hard on them. As long as we’re in the room we might as well go super hard. Everybody’s writing songs and everyone’s super motivated creatively. As long as that’s all still there, there’s no reason we can’t do it for a while.
Do you want to be like Springsteen or the Stones and still be doing it in your 60s and 70s?
Right now? No. I’m at the end of this tour and my knee hurts and my ears are ringing and I miss my wife and I miss my dogs. So right now, I gotta say I can’t wait to not be out here for a while. But I’ll get a couple weeks away and I’m sure I’ll fall back in.
The time off is good. I can’t think of a time in the last 10 years where I wasn’t like [claps hands] “I can’t wait to see the guys” after we’ve been away from it a couple months. You’re curious. We don’t necessarily stay in super-close contact when we’re away from each other. When you get back together you’re genuinely excited to find out “Hey, how are things going with your kids?” or “Let’s hear your new songs.” All that stuff. That’s as much of a part of it as anything. The lifelong friendship part of it is more important to me than the legacy of the band at this point.
You guys are on the road a lot. Do you have favorite venues you like to play?
The place like we played in Moline the other night, those 10,000-seat arenas, the Joe Louis in Detroit that’s like 50 years old, the Forum in L.A., places like that. There’s something about those older basketball and hockey arenas. I don’t know if it’s the dust and the grime that deadens the room? Part of it is that the seats are sort of straight up in those places, so it feels like even the in far away seats you can see the faces of all the people like they’re right next to you.
Madison Square Garden is always an amazing place to play. The Gorge if it’s not 180 degrees is a great place. We haven’t played Red Rocks in a long time; I’d love to go back there at some point.
The Lightning Bolt tour is wrapping up. Is that all the touring planned for a while?
Yeah, I think we sort of relish having nothing on the calendar, even if it’s just for a couple months. I would guess we’ll get through the holidays and then talk at some point after that and figure out what we’re doing.
We went pretty hard this last year, so I think everyone is ready to take a break and just wash the dishes and change some diapers.
Is the band working on a new record at this point?
No. But I think everybody’s got some stuff stowed away. All the stuff I’ve written recently is gonna go into the RNDM box with Joe Arthur. It’s pretty easy for me at this point because we don’t have kids, so when I’m home I’m tinkering in the studio all the time.
You’ve also been involved in the funding and construction of multiple new skate parks throughout Montana. How’d that come about?
It started for me like three or four years ago, when actually I made out a living will. There’s an organization called the Montana Skatepark Association, and I was planning out that I wanted “X” amount of money to go to future skateparks in the state, and then I thought, “Well, why don’t I just do that now? Why wait until I’m dead, you know?”
So in the back of my head I just said “I’m gonna give a certain amount of money to it over the next few years.” I sat down with a map and sorta mapped out about 10 towns that I thought made sense and started putting feelers out. And from there it just sort of snowballed.
And these aren’t rinky-dink little ramps. I’ve seen pictures; it’s pro stuff.
It’s dream-gig stuff. Growing up in North Central Montana the only thing we had was my parents letting me build a little ramp in my yard.
It’s kind of not the normal way that you’d be philanthropic. It’s not an obvious thing like giving to a food bank, which obviously is a place that’s in need. We need to get kids outdoors and we need to get kids active. And some of these places like the Blackfeet Reservation where diabetes is kinda high you need to get kids out doing things.
And I love it. I’ve seen kids turn their lives around. It’s usually a kid who’s outside of the team-sport world, or maybe has a darker personality or doesn’t fit in. Skateboarding ends up being something they latch onto. It sounds hokey, but finding a focus on something – whether its skateboard or playing your guitar – can be life changing.